High School Sparks Outrage For Omitting Gay Teens' Yearbook Quotes

An administrator says the move wasn't intended "to offend or hurt anyone."

Two gay students say they no longer feel accepted by their Missouri high school after submitting quotes for the 2017 yearbook that were ultimately omitted.

Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz, who graduated from Kearney High School in Kearney, Missouri this spring, received their yearbooks recently and were stunned to find a space beneath their portraits usually reserved for student quotes left blank. The teens, both of whom identify as gay, told KCTV 5 that they’d written “innocent,” personal quotes that summed up their high school experiences.  

“Of course I dress well. I didn’t spend all that time in the closet for nothing,” Slivinski’s quote reportedly read. Swartz said his quote offered a similar sentiment: “If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that nobody deserves to live in the closet.” 

Kearney High School officials released a statement cited by KCTV 5 and The Washington Post, explaining that quotes that “could potentially offend another student or groups of students” were not published in the yearbook. 

“It is the school’s practice to err on the side of caution. Doing so in this case had the unintentional consequence of offending the very students the practice was designed to protect,” the statement, which was attributed to Kearney High School Principal Dave Schwarzenbach and Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely, read. “We sincerely apologize to those students.”

Meanwhile, in a lengthy Facebook post, Slivinski summed up his reaction to finding out his quote had been removed. “I put a very innocent quote as my senior quote and they took it away from me with absolutely no warning or option to change it,” he wrote Aug. 8. “Our schools are supposed to be a place that you can express being who you are. Today I realized Kearney isn’t ready for me being me.”  

Read Slivinski’s full Facebook post. Story continues below. 

Swartz felt similarly. “They need to know what they did is wrong,” he told KCTV 5. “I want to be able to tell other people my story about what happened.”

On Aug. 10, school board member Matthew Ryan Hunt posted a snapshot showing the portraits as they were originally intended to appear, with their personal quotes handwritten below. 

A day later, the case also caught the eye of the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Kansas City branch. Officials at the queer advocacy group shared Ryan’s photo on their official Facebook page Aug. 11, noting, “LGBTQ students should never be punished for being who they are.”

The HRC’s Abbey Logan doubled down on that view, telling HuffPost, “Living as an open LGBTQ individual is not a controversial statement and should not be treated as such. With the inflammatory rhetoric permeating the national conversation, it is paramount to let LGBTQ youth know that they are loved and supported as they are and that being targeted for living openly is never OK.” 

In a email to HuffPost Monday, Nicely called the decision to scrap Slivinski and Swartz’s quotes “an error on the part of the school district,” noting that neither of the students were notified that their words were going to be removed. Quotes submitted by other students had also been scrapped “for varying reasons,” he added. 

“As a result of a breakdown in communication we did not reach out to the students before publication,” he wrote. “Had we done so, the quotes would have been permitted just as a similar quote was permitted in last year’s publication.”

He then added, “I will be the first to tell you we feel terrible about it. It was never the intention of the school district to offend or hurt anyone, and we are deeply sorry for any pain or frustration that resulted due to this error.”

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